30 November 2008

Belles on air

They named themselves the Jazzebells, so I’ll borrow the lightly sexist reference for my title. The belles are three women who perform jazz around town. I’ve been wanting to hear them for sometime, given that they’d played regularly at the Casino and elsewhere. Hannah and Olivia are performers I’ve known and watched as students, and Rachael’s name appears commonly in the CJCalendar, but I’d yet to catch her in performance. They played two sets of sometimes beautiful, consistently satisfying and broadly ranging standards, from sweet bossa-novas to strong, renowned modern jazz tunes, and I enjoyed it immensely.

I especially enjoyed the presence of vocals. I’d heard most of the tunes before and sometimes with voice. But it came back to me how the lyrics give meaning and understanding which is missing in the instrumental version. Obvious enough, really, but not always remembered in the frenzied instrumental world of jazz. I’ve commented before that voice is a thing of beauty, but words are ideas and emotions and communication, and even the lyrics of a cheesy love song can provide something otherwise missing. This was doubly so with those tunes which are seldom heard with lyrics, like Stolen moments or Whisper not.

Rachael led the band with a strong, blues-influenced voice, a smooth tremelo and capable scat, and that awareness of songs which only a singer has. But as is my wont, I particularly noticed bass and piano. Hannah showed real taste and strength in her playing. It was the strongest performance I’ve heard from her: good intonation, strong walks and perfect latin rhythms, tasteful soloing. She introduced several of the tunes. I felt a real authority and solidity from the first notes of Stolen moments and Invitation. Olivia is only a new student at the Jazz School, but she stunned me with a maturity and presence that I hadn’t expected. I felt a great sensitivity of style, while ranging over a sweep of genres. There was stride, deceptive balladic simplicity, and an altered-sounding modernism on Invitation which I hadn’t expected from her. She’s got a wonderful sense of style and feel. It’ll be exciting to watch her development over coming years. Aidan was new to me, and also to the band as he was filling in for Ed Rodrigues at the last moment. He did a great job: fairly simple, but always steady and reliable. It’s a mark of professionalism, and I have much time for it.

These are well-trained players and I’m sure no-one would have noticed, but it was interesting to be in the studio as they reminded themselves of arrangements, or changed allocations of solos at will to fit the demands of live radio. No sweat, they are confident players (not that belles would sweat, of course). And the tunes are well known and apt for frequent restaurant and café work around town: a wide range of standards and latins and well known jazz tunes. I mentioned Stolen moments, Whisper not and Invitation above. Other tunes included Foggy day, God bless the child, Waltz for Debbie, Crazy he calls me and Centerpiece, and latins Desafinado, Little boat and Dindi.

So the themes of belles may be apt, and it’s certainly cute and sells the band, but these are no lightweights. They are serious and capable musicians in the challenging (but welcoming) male-dominated domain of jazz. Thanks to the Jazzebells for a wonderful night playing a few of the great tunes of our standards repertoire.

BTW, Dean was streaming the broadcast to ustream.tv. There were bandwidth limitations so it’s certainly not perfect. He chose to optimise audio and relegate the video, so it’s very pixelated, but it’s there and a promise of future possiblities. To see these videos, go to ustream.tv and search ArtSound. He was also chatting with viewers online while streaming: one in Kaleen, another in Denmark. The wonders of this new tech!

The Jazzebells are Rachael Thoms (vocals), Olivia Henderson (piano) and Hannah James (bass), tonight joined by honorary belle, Aidan Lowe (drums).

  • ArtSound on ustream.tv
  • 27 November 2008

    Worldly Westies

    Text by Daniel Wild, pics borrowed from WOW

    Ascend the steps to the Hippo Bar and meet Way Out West – an eclectic sextet that’s hard to pigeonhole. The fact that they appeared on Wednesday night at the Hippo indicates they have some relation to jazz, but this is music for music’s sake. Leading the band is Peter Knight on trumpet, who keeps the band in groove with his towering presence, sure-fire gestures and glances that tell the band a modulation is at hand. Playing the saxophones is Adam Simmons – mainly on tenor, but he did pull out some type of soprano sax for some evocative melodic flights. A cursory look at the two horns might suggest this is another Hancock-esque or Art Blakey like jazz combo, designed to get the party moving and present the audience with familiar tunes or catchy riffs done with verve. But, even accounting for the absence of a piano, this is fresh and different.

    Way Out West are based in Melbourne’s inner west, although are increasingly spending less time there due to the demands of touring. This is their third time in Canberra. As a Sydneysider I’m not familiar with the cultural melting pot of Melbourne’s inner suburbs, although after hearing this band, I consider myself an aspiring Melburnian and deduce that Melbourne’s inner west must be at least as good as Sydney’s.

    Ray Pereira on percussion and Rajiv Jayaweera on drums were the rhythmic heart of this gig. Rajiv has an economical kit – high hat, crash and ride cymbals, snare, bass drum and a cute little “utility drum” just above the snare. There are no toms and his playing is far from cute. While Pereira lays down Afro-cuban rhythms on his congas Jayaweera keeps a steady, supposedly conventional jazz rhythm that lays the temporal groundwork for the music. On closer listening, Jayaweera’s “world” influences – Indian and Latin – are apparent. He will play his kit with hands, set up cross rhythms between the high hat and snare and interject a well timed cymbal crash that splashes like a smooth basketball-sized stone falling into a running stream. Rajiv’s solo in the second set was particular inspiring – the absence of floor toms ruled out the possibility of stomach-rumbling to rolls. Instead, he resourcefully crafted a compelling solo with his snare and cymbals, reminiscent of early Tony Williams. The texture of the solo went from transparent to dense and forceful. All the while Pereira provided him with driving support on the congas.

    The rapport between Jayaweera and Pereira is an important feature of the band. Pereira opened the first set with a solo intro on what looked like a small tambourine and sounded like a miniature tabla. Pereira obtained quite a range of sound by applying pressure on the drum skin as he tapped it. By varying the pressure point he could bend the sound by almost a fifth.

    Pereira and Dung Nguyen combined at the end of the first set to play one of their own compositions, perhaps written during a jam while the other musicians were taking tea. This type of music is always free, open and unpredictable. Nguyen is perhaps the chief stylist of Way Out West. He plays the guitar and some traditional Vietnamese instruments: the dan bau and dan tranh. His playing allows Way Out West to achieve their distinctive blend of jazz-fusion and world music.

    The dan bau appears to be related to the Chinese erhu, but is plucked rather than bowed. A lever operated by Dung’s left hand changes the pitch. He can bend notes to his heart’s content, taking us to the jungle in the night or conjuring the mystery of a western ghost town.

    Adam Simmons is particularly idiosyncratic on tenor sax. He lulls you into a false sense of security, beginning his solos with conventional bluesy lines. Then just when you think, cool – this is funky tenor stuff – he launches into bellicose squeals, heartfelt yelps, frogs in your throat growls, offhanded utterances and tones so high up the register only a dog could hear them. Simmons gets a really dirty sound out of his instrument; the type of tone that many believe is the only way a tenor should be played. Rather than the “here I am, let me seduce you with the straight talking sax” approach, Simmons employs the “hey you – you think this rocks? Well what about this eeeeee; or this awwgg; or check this out – yarnk yrank, cahhoooeee grisle grisle.” At other times Simmons backs up Peter Knight’s trumpet musings with underlying “harmonic Persian carpet notes” or lays out and smiles and dances with the upper part of his body.

    Although the structure of many of the pieces is modal, Knight’s arranging allows for modulations, time shifts, texture variations and interaction. He has lots of colour to draw upon in this sextet and makes full use of it, turning his combo into a mini-big band.

    Don’t let Way Out West surprise you. It’s easy to be lulled by the exotic eastern melodies and coaxed into a false sense of security as if you were a shepherd on the hills of Kashmir with your back turned towards the Himalayas. Then, like a resounding avalanche, Rajiv will smack the snare as loud as possible, your whole frame will shake, and you will awake – excited, curious and apprehensive.

    Wednesday’s gig coincided with the launch of their latest album, Old Grooves for New Streets. Way Out West shouldn’t be compared to anyone, but if you like Waiting for Guinness, Monsieur Camembert or Arabesque and are looking for something with a more streetwise, worldly flavour, you’ll do yourself no disservice by buying this album.

    Oh, and did I mention the bass player? It seems that by providing the very foundation on which the rest of a band builds lavish musical sallies, by being inconspicuous yet powerful, bass players frequently are taken for granted as just doing their job. If you focus your attention on Howard Cairns’ bass lines you will be amply rewarded. Cairns variation of the bass on beats three and four is particularly notable. Composers, bass players and solo pianists can derive much useful instruction by listening to how Cairns keeps momentum going and maintains interest with his subtle rhythmic and pedal point variations.

    Last word has to go to Ray Pereira, who taught the bar how to properly shake a cocktail during a moody piece that climaxed with some almost free and very adventurous jazz. These episodes were always used sparingly and to release and express the growing latent tension. During one of these spells Pereira began furiously shaking what looked like some type of maraca, although it may indeed have been a cocktail shaker filled with cardamon pods.

    Way Out West are Peter Knight (trumpet), Adam Simmons (tenor sax), Dung Nguyen (modified electric guitar, dan tranh (Vietnamese zither), dan bau (single string plucked instrument), dan nhi (Vietnamese violin)), Ray Pereira (percussion), Howard Cairns (acoustic bass), Rajiv Jayaweera (drums).

    26 November 2008

    United we stand... Nat'l Jazz Alliance

    The other side of that famous quote is, of course, "...divided we fall". So it's great to hear that a National Jazz Alliance has been formed " to develop a unified voice and strategy on key issues for the jazz and improvised music sectors". The contact is Joanne Kee who has been involved with the Jazzgroove crowd in Sydney. Great. Get in your comments and support.

    Media release 26 November, 2008

    Blue note, high note, underground or in solid view?

    The National Jazz Alliance has been formed to develop a unified voice and strategy on key issues for the jazz and improvised music sectors.

  • What’s the State of Australian jazz and improvised music today? Were things better in the past? Was there a Golden Age?
  • Does jazz need a higher profile, more public visibility?
  • What is the state of our venues?
  • Why are jazz musicians paid a fraction compared to their classical counterparts, when the same amount of study and expertise goes into their art?
  • Are there audiences out there?
  • Do the more organized sectors lobby more effectively for funding?
  • Does the lack of advertising dollars equate to a lack of column inches in the mainstream media? If so, can effective alternatives be developed?
  • If jazz and improvised music is to have a sustainable future what needs to be changed and how can this be achieved?

  • Comments and involvement from individuals, venues and associations who are involved in improvised jazz are welcomed. Visit www.nationaljazzalliance.com.au and have your say.

    The national project manager for this Alliance is Joanne Kee. If you wish to contact Joanne please email jkee@nationaljazzalliance.com.au.

    This position has been funded by the Australia Council.

    Founding member organisations are Jazz WA, Melbourne Co-op, Jazz Queensland, Sydney Improvised Music Association, Jazz SA, Jazzgroove and Wangaratta Festival of Jazz.

  • National Jazz Alliance website
  • 23 November 2008

    To end the academic year

    It was the end of recitals for the year, and there was a good humour and a buzz in the studio when Fourth Degree Byrnes played for ArtSound on Friday night. There were nerves (to be expected at a live studio broadcast) and some seriousness, too, but the mood was pretty light otherwise. Neveen Byrnes led a team of fellow final year students for an end-of-week outing.

    They played several originals by Neveen, Lost and found, Ignorance is bliss and one that was not named, one original by Andy Campbell, Milk (amusingly followed on the night by that well known Stanley Turrentine swinger, Sugar), as well as several standards: Jobim’s Triste, Invitation, Wayne Shorter’s Juju, and interestingly, a funky, bass-heavy Miles Davis/Marcus Miller tune from the Amandala album, Hannibal. This was home for Stu, the bassist, who I’ve mostly seen slapping and popping with the Commercials. He’s an excellent slapper, and perfectly capable in this more traditional environment, but I’d guess fingerstyle isn’t his first love.

    This got me thinking of musical personalities. Our musical personalities are formed from what we hear, what we learn, as well as being an expression of our broader personalities. Musical and general personalities may seem to others to be in opposition or in harmony, although I expect they will always be related somehow. Excuse the amateur musical psychology, but I saw Neveen’s musical presence as more reticent and steely, somewhat introspective, and quite a contrast from the buoyant, perhaps jubilant and overflowing style of Andy’s guitar. These were different takes on the music (both valid but clearly different), and I could hear the changes as the solos passed from one to another. Stu was more restrained in this context than his slappy, funky self (I noticed real concentration on his face during Invitation) and Hugh displayed quite an quietly outspoken style when he broke into blatant tom rolls and fills that featured richly in some solos.

    It was an entertaining and artful show and a fitting end to the musical year. You have a chance to catch the band again this coming Tues at 9pm in the Trinity Bar, Dickson. The Trinity Tuesday scene sounds great (I haven’t got there yet during this incarnation). Do yourself a favour and go down for the free night and discount drinks.

    Fourth Degree Byrnes is led by Neveen Byrnes (tenor sax) with Andy Campbell (guitar), Stu McKnown (bass) and Hugh Deacon (drums).

    22 November 2008

    Memorable French session

    Text and pics by Brenton Holmes

    Watch out world. Here comes the Austin Benjamin Trio.

    Jazz nights at the Alliance Francaise are invariably enjoyable - good bands and an audience that is there for the music. But the latest outing was especially memorable. Austin Benjamin (piano) Chris Pound (bass) and Evan Dorrian (drums) were joined by Matt Lustri (guitar) and Max Williams (tenor sax) and delivered the most thrilling and interesting music I've heard for a long time.

    The chops go without saying. Each player's technical facility is first rate. But it's their sheer individual musicality and the strength of their rapport that makes their ensemble playing outstanding.

    The trio largely worked their way through material on their Amalgama album (recorded at ArtSound) along with a couple of standards that went way beyond standard. I wouldn't have thought it possible that All Blue could sound anything but familiar and cosy. These guys breathed new life into it - not by being remotely excessive, but by being exquisitely inventive. Benjamin delivered the tonal colours for the band to work off, and Lustri's solo was a mischievous treat. Pound and Dorrian seasoned it perfectly. Another standard, In a Sentimental Mood, was a joy.

    But it was Benjamin's own compositions that really gave the night its highs. Typically he establishes a motif and rhythm into which he invites Dorrian and Pound, and the weave really starts to happen. Its edgy and fascinating stuff. From the first few notes of Benjamin's Overture the hairs were standing up on my neck. And as each tune unrolled - Cicada, Solal the Cat, The Magnus Effect and the rest - I couldn't wipe the smile off my face.

    Evan Dorrian is to drumming like Fred Astaire is to dancing or Roger Federer to tennis. Poetry, sheer artistry. He skitters across the skins. Cymbals glow or flash. He's dazzlingly fast and dreamily slow, perfect in timing and touch. His dynamics are flawless. A drummer's drummer. A musician's drummer. Lucky trio.

    Chris Pound, too, has a great touch. Even when he walks he wanders just right. His solos are beautifully structured and his interaction with both drums and keyboard is superb.

    Austin Benjamin is a gifted composer and player. He can taunt a melody, Rubix-cube a chord, stretch a rhythm and it all sounds like it could be no other way. He knows exactly what he's trying to achieve musically and consistently pulls it off. And it seems to come out of a genuine, humble devotion to his muse. No smart arse. Just good art.

    The Austin Benjamin Trio is a blessing from the jazz gods for which we should all be truly grateful.

    15 November 2008

    Gone to the shops

    My pop/disco band mostly plays private gigs so it’s missed a write-up, but today three of us played for a Coles promotional gig at Jamison Centre. It’s was busy and noisy, but we played standards, passed around tons of solos, the kids enjoyed the clowns and we had a good time. James plays a very cool, sweet and laid-back tenor (think Stan Getz) with solos to make the fairer sex melt. Peter is a wonderfully capable and experienced keyboardist. I love the way the various sounds pop up in the disco setting: organ or piano or synth or clav or whatever. In this context, he played piano, and he’s always solid and reliable and often adventurous. I got plenty of solos too, and we had some good, solid latins and walks happening, and that’s always satisfying. So, lots of fun, a slightly unusual (and busy and noisy) venue and with the earliest start I remember.

    Crisp is now renamed as Stolen Moments, or Kitsch in Synch for the more playful gigs. The trio comprised James Hoogstad (tenor), Peter Kirkup (piano) and Eric Pozza (bass).

    8 November 2008

    Utopia redux

    The Utopia Collective broadcast from ArtSound for last night’s Friday Night Live. Greg Stott and John Mackey have been expanding the old Greg Stott Band theme to be a looser collection of musos playing music by all members, so the Collective theme. It’s exciting and perhaps a little utopian, but always interesting with varying repertoire and players and interpretations and presumably also leadership for the different tunes.

    This performance had Greg and John with Mark Sutton and James Luke. They are all players we see together in various settings, and who are all well known to each other, so it was comfortable. And the sound of this version of the band was very different: because it was in a studio with no audible audience, and because it was a different lineup. James seemed more mellifluous, less funky, more experimental, than Jason Varlet, their normal bassist. No comment on quality here; they are both very capable players, but they are different. So the style seemed more free-flowing, less defined; plenty of go-ahead energy, but less funk/rock power. And there was no keyboard, so the harmonic structure was more open. But that’s why the collective style is so interesting: different incarnations are different. In the studio it was obvious, as they passed solos around, that there was a good deal of looseness. We got powerful, racy solos as always from these guys. James won the prize for effects on the night with something outrageously audacious that sounded like a superior autowah crossed with octave pedal (Octavius Squeezer). The tunes were many that I recognised from earlier outings of this band, by Greg and by John. Strong and attractive and catholic in taste.

    And congratulations are due to Chris Deacon and Lauren Black for ArtSound’s Friday Night Live. Apparently they are finalists in the National Programming Awards, with nominations in two categories: Excellence in Music Programming and Best Contribution to Local Music. The winners will be announced in a week or so at the National Conference of the Community Broadcasting Association. (Surprisingly, there are ~360 members in this association, presumably Australian. Community broadcasting is obviously much bigger sector than I’d expected. But then nothing really surprisies me about these guys after I learnt they have their own satellite!) It’s great work that Chis and Lauren do; winner or not. Many thanks and congratulations to our mates at ArtSound from CJ.

    Just a short note to record a very satisfying broadcast. At least at this performance, the Utopia Collective comprised Greg Stott (guitar), John Mackey (tenor sax), James Luke (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums).
  • Octavius Squeezer
  • 6 November 2008

    Return of both master and style

    I’d heard tell of Andrew Robson, and heard some snippets here and there, but never heard him or his band live. I did last night. And it was a stunner. I have spoken here before of two of my favourite albums of all time: The cry of my people / Archie Shepp and Love from the sun / Norman Connors. Both are from the early ‘70s; both have vibrant, earthy, rhythmic, soulful playing and political comment around race issues. Andrew Robson’s band reminded me of that music and that era.

    The night started with a horn duo, Andrew Robson on alto and Paul Cutlan on bass clarinet, playing an apparently free set. They were both spectacular, calling up harmonies then melting into new ones, bouncing lines and echoing each other, changing rhythms and roles at will. This was intense and communicative and emotionally mobile music by two players who obviously know each other musically. Paul switched to Eb clarinet and tenor sax, and Andrew to soprano sax, so the tones changed, but the interaction remained intense and true. Andrew sounded more jazz-influenced lines, and Paul, perhaps inevitably given the clarinets, impressed me as a more classical idiom. They played two tunes. The first improvisation lasted perhaps 30 minutes; this was dense, exploratory, searching. The second was much shorter, in expectance of the trio to follow; this was flighty, buoyant, jumpy. I’d heard an earlier concert with this pair on ArtSound, but hearing them live was insinuating and engrossing. So I was stunned before the rhythm section even appeared.

    The performers were billed as the Andrew Robson Trio with Paul Cutlan. After the two duets, Andrew called up the other members of the trio, Steve Elphick and Hamish Stuart. The tone of the evening changed. The first tune hit with simplicity at first, then a devilishly fast rainfall of bass notes which was to be repeated later in the tune, long lines of alto, continuing changes in rhythm and groove, abundant life and energy, and a clear path to the history and tradition of the art of jazz. A second tune was given over to Barack Obama’s win which occurred on this day (Australian time). You could hear New Orleans, and extended bop lines, and 60s free and sax masters. The first tune was Big Ben, a dedication to Andrew’s major influence, saxist Bennie Wallace. A mate reported that Albert Ayler is another influence. Whatever, I looked at a friend when the break came, and we were both overwhelmed by the virtuosity and honesty of this music.

    The second set continued with long and sinuous unison melodies, a rhythm section that continuously mutated and weaved its way under clear and expressive solos, walks and syncopations, horn counterpoint, deceptively simple drumming and a wonderfully expressive drum solo, and horns and bass freely exploring their full ranges, into thumb positions on the bass and honks and squeals on the horns, with long intervals and extended intervallic runs. But always with purpose. The final tune was a dedication to Don Johnson, the inaugural head of the Jazz School in Canberra. He died several years back, but is well remembered by Andrew. This was his Ode to Abe Snake, apparently Don’s Native American name.

    Here’s a product of our Jazz School who’s come back as a master. This was truly an intelligent, engrossing and profound concert, and a welcome visit to my favourite style of jazz. ArtSound was recording, so listen out for the broadcast sometime on Friday Night Live. It was a stunner.

    Andrew Robson (alto, soprano sax) played with Paul Cutlan (bass clarinet, Eb clarinet, tenor sax), Steve Elphick (bass) and Hamish Stuart (drums).

    2 November 2008

    Bass awards

    Bass is the instrument for the National Jazz Awards at this year’s Wangaratta Jazz Festival. I'm not there, but I’ve just listened to the finals on ABCFM JazzTrack. The finalists don't seem controversial: Sam Anning, Phil Stack and Ben Waples. All are worthy players. I know the first two from several performances in Canberra. I’ve heard Ben, but don’t feel I know him as well as the other two. The judges were Mike Nock with Craig Scott and Jonathon Zwartz. I’m interested to see if I agree with the results this year. I was at Wang last year and came to a different decision from that of the judges. But they were capable judges, so it just shows the personal nature of such things. I have various thoughts on this year's performances and I’ll only give the smallest summary here. For the record (written before I hear the results), I would give it to Sam Anning for intellectual adventurousness and harmonic richness, second to Phil Stack for exuberance and drive, and third to Ben Waples. I'm not too keen on competitions like this and all three are all capable players, but life is like that.

    And the results are ...

    First: Phil Stack, Second: Ben Waples, Third: Sam Anning.

    Congrats to all three, irrespective of results, and to the seven others who performed over the weekend, and who we didn't hear on the radio. Also to the great accompanists, Sam Keevers (piano) and Simon Barker (drums).

    Visiting Utopia

    I went to Utopia last night. Well, not THE Utopia, but I heard Utopia Collective, which is the lively, well-named and entertaining large ensemble led by Greg Stott. Greg had promised for some time to write big band charts, and he’s finally come good. It’s a big project; it’s well done, interesting, very competent, and it’s recorded.

    The night started with a small band, essentially GSB (Greg Stott Band). Greg (guitar) with John Mackey (tenor sax), Jason Varlet (bass), Mark Sutton (drums) and Sydney player fresh from touring with silverchair, Adam Sofo (keyboards). I’d heard this band several times with Wayne Kelly on keys before his departure for Macau. Adam was new (the band only formed at 4.30pm preceeding the gig) but performed with zest and capability on piano, organ and other keyboards. I liked the way the styles of playing changed with the different keyboard sounds. You can’t play a sustained organ tone like a percussive piano. He seemed to drop into whatever with comfort. John mostly led on melodies and took the emotional highs with some flaming jazz solos (we expect and get no less from John). Greg soloed with sheets of notes, clear and expressive, and edgier when he picked up his strat. Jason played some occasional slap and clearly intentioned solos on bass, but impressed mostly as solid, well-formed and ultimately reliable, as a bassist should be. But I was entranced by Mark this night. His playing was an object lesson in driving the band through different rhythmic feels, and his solos merged imperceptibly with his backing playing. Wonderful playing by Mark, and all round. The tunes were by Greg and John. Greg’s Body politics is a blues with a great funky jazz trio segment. John’s Shorter straw is a dedication to Wayne Shorter. Greg’s Grey sky is a slower 3/4 piece with cut-time country-style bass, which I had previously described as country ballad. It reminds me of Mark Knopfler and the Local Hero theme so I guess that’s country style. Greg joked of years working years to be a jazz nazi, but playing this and several other pop charts later in the night just convinced me of his maturity and catholicism of approach. I like John’s It’s the only thing to do, and they played several other original tunes too.

    The second set was the Utopia Collective itself. UC is a platform for big band charts by Greg, but also an opportunity to play with a batch of excellent players, and to record and video and perhaps to tour. The charts were good, the tunes were mostly originals, and there was a pair of vocals tunes in there too. Campervan was a lively start, and a tongue-in-cheek reference to Caravan. Maybe tomorrow started with flute and continued as thoughtful, melodic and restrained. A beginner’s guide to brainwashing was a world premiere, as well as a hot funky piece that I particularly liked. The final piece was a down-home organ-based swing that gave the back line an opportunity for a blow. Gary France is a ring-in from the classical percussion school. He added layers of percussion and sound, using various instruments which he shook or hit, as well as the more substantial congas and vibes, and I enjoyed his display of virtuosity with a vibes solo at the end of the night. The large band also played two pop songs, a Donny Hathaway and another, with singer Imogen Spong sitting in. Imogen sang with an impassioned, inflected, soul style. It’s not jazz vocals, but in the style of the divas of current popular soul (perhaps now called R&B) world, think Christina Aguilera. She’s already well-developed stylistically, but I felt there’s loads of further strength and confidence to come. She’s clearly one to watch.

    There were other aspects of this night that impressed. It was held at the CIT auditorium. CIT trains in music and audio and video production. The sound was great, with a timbered chamber and a powerful, big-binned PA run at moderate volume, presumably with masses of headroom giving unstrained clarity over the full frequency range. I really enjoy an unstressed PA; this was a pleasure. There was a mixing station at the back of the room, with video screens and audio mixers and various processing toys. There were several video people peppered around the room. The stage was well laid out with depth and height and well lit with vibrant colours. It really was a great presentation. And there was an audience of friends and family at café-style tables, which always makes for a friendly and relaxed atmosphere at a gig.

    So a very nice outing, interesting and very well played charts, and it’s all recorded for posterity. Greg’s planning an annual outing for the Utopia Collective. I hope they can tour or perform more often. I certainly hope to be at the next local gig. This is intelligent, entertaining music which crosses boundaries. Congrats to all.

    The Utopia Collective comprised Greg Stott (guitar and leader), John Mackey (tenor sax), Mark Sutton (drums), Jason Varlet (bass), Adam Sofo (keyboards), Imogen Spong (vocals), Gary France (vibes, congas, percussion), Graeme Reynolds, Dan McLean and Ben Marston (trumpets), Rod Harding and Rob Lee (trombones), Matt O’Keefe (bass clarinet, baritone sax), Niels Rosendahl (tenor sax, clarinet), Andrew Hackwell (sax, flute), Lina Andonovska (flutes)